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6 Snorkeling Spots Sheltered From Summer Swells

6 Snorkeling Spots Sheltered From Summer Swells

Summertime on Maui usually brings perfect weather for beautiful beach days. But, summer swells can present a challenge for many of our favorite snorkeling spots. What to do? Auntie Snorkel is here to guide you to some of the best snorkeling spots where you can glide through calm, crystal-clear waters even during summer swells. So, get your snorkel gear ready for an epic adventure without the worries of rough waves. But first, let’s get a better understanding of where those summer swells come from, and where they’re likely to have impacts.

Where Do Summer Swells in the Pacific Ocean Come From?

South Swells Origin Diagram

An example of where summer south swells originate, far away from Hawai’i. Click for more great explanation of Hawai’i swells.

In Maui, summer swells are largely influenced by the seasonal shifts in weather patterns and ocean currents. During the summer months, typically from May to September, the southern hemisphere experiences its winter season. This naturally produces stronger and more frequent storm systems that in turn generate deep ocean swells that travel northward. These winter storms, often originating near Antarctica or in the southern Pacific, create powerful swells that can travel thousands of miles across the open ocean. As these swells propagate northward, they reach the Hawaiian Islands, including Maui, where they produce the summer swells that surfers and ocean enthusiasts eagerly anticipate.

Summer swells in Maui that travel long distances are characterized by their longer period, which refers to the time interval between successive wave crests. This longer period results in more powerful and well-defined waves compared to the shorter-period swells common from closer storms or wind near shore.

Where Do Summer Swells Hit in Maui?

Maui Swell Direction Map

A map of ideal swell directions for different areas of Maui.

The south and southwest-facing coastlines of Maui are particularly affected by these summer swells. Areas such as Ka’anapali, Lahaina, and Olowalu on the western side of the island, as well as Kihei, Wailea, and Makena on the southern coast, receive the brunt of these south and southwest swells. These locations are favored by surfers for their consistent waves and generally favorable wind conditions during the summer months.

So, Where Can I Snorkel When a Summer Swell is Present?

First, the bad news. If the south swells are up AND the weather is bad at the same time, there might not be anywhere suitable for snorkeling. In that case, scroll all the way down to the end of this article for our favorite snorkeling alternatives. However, the good news is as long as the weather is decent, there are quite a few snorkeling spots that typically avoid summer swell impacts, mostly on Maui’s northwest shore.

Honolua Bay Beach GuideHonolua Bay

Nestled near Kapalua on Maui’s northwest coast, Honolua Bay is an exceptional snorkeling spot that offers refuge from summer swells. Sheltered by its geographical orientation, the inner bay boasts calm waters ideal for snorkelers seeking a tranquil underwater experience. Its vibrant coral reefs and diverse marine life, including colorful fish species, make it a favorite destination. Honolua Bay’s accessibility, clear visibility, and opportunities for guided tours ensure a memorable and enjoyable snorkeling adventure while avoiding the impacts of larger waves and currents often experienced during summer swells. Book a sailing catamaran snorkeling tour of Honolua Bay on our website, and get Auntie’s best price guaranteed!

Mokule'ia Bay Beach Guide

Remote bay with sandy beach and good snorkeling. Stair case access only.

Mokule’ia Bay

Also known as Slaughterhouse Beach, Mokule’ia Bay is nestled along Maui’s west coast near Kapalua, stands out as a fantastic snorkeling spot sheltered from the impact of summer swells. The beach’s unique positioning and surrounding cliffs provide a natural barrier that shadows the effects of larger south swells, creating a more tranquil and safer environment for snorkelers. This sheltered setting allows for clearer waters and improved visibility, enhancing the snorkeling experience. Slaughterhouse Beach is known for its diverse marine life, including colorful fish, sea turtles, and vibrant coral formations, making it a favorite destination for underwater exploration and marine encounters. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced snorkeler, Slaughterhouse Beach offers a peaceful and rewarding snorkeling experience while avoiding the challenges posed by summer swells.

Kapalua Bay Beach Guide

Popular bay that offers some shelter from wind/waves for snorkeling, paddle boarding, and family beach days.

Kapalua Bay

Located on Maui’s northwest coast, Kapalua Bay is renowned for its exceptional snorkeling opportunities, especially during summer swells. The bay’s unique horseshoe shape and orientation create a natural barrier that shields it from the impacts of larger south swells and strong currents. This sheltered configuration results in calm and clear waters, making Kapalua Bay an ideal spot for snorkelers of all skill levels, including families with children. Snorkelers can explore the bay’s vibrant coral reefs teeming with colorful fish, sea turtles, and other marine creatures without the worry of challenging surf conditions. The gentle sloping entry into the water and the abundance of marine life make Kapalua Bay a favorite destination for underwater enthusiasts seeking a peaceful and immersive snorkeling experience while avoiding the impacts of summer swells.

Napili Bay Beach Guide

Family-friendly sandy beach in a bay offering excellent snorkeling, paddle boarding, and other recreation.

Napili Bay

Nestled along Maui’s northwest coast, Napili Bay is renowned for its calm and sheltered waters, making it an excellent snorkeling spot even during summer swells. The bay is protected by its orientation, reducing the impact of summer waves and creating a tranquil environment for snorkelers. This sheltered setting makes Napili Bay ideal for families and beginner snorkelers looking for a safe and enjoyable underwater experience. Snorkelers can encounter a diverse array of marine life, including colorful fish, sea turtles, and vibrant coral formations, all while enjoying clear visibility and gentle currents. The sandy beach and easy access to the water make Napili Bay a popular destination for snorkeling adventures, providing a peaceful escape from the effects of summer swells.

Kahekili Beach Park Guide

Family-friendly, easy access beach for all ocean recreation. Free parking and good facilities.

Kahekili Beach Park

Situated on Maui’s west coast, Kahekili Beach Park is renowned for its pristine sands and clear turquoise waters, making it an excellent snorkeling spot that is usually, though not always, sheltered from summer swells. Check our beach guide webcam and the local forecast ahead of time to make sure the day’s swell is not impacting Kahekili. The beach’s orientation means it is usually shadowed from summer south swells. Its typically calm and gentle conditions are perfect for snorkelers of all skill levels, making it a favorite destination for those looking to enjoy a relaxing and immersive snorkeling experience while avoiding the impact of summer swells.

Molokini aerial view from the south

Book a Calypso Molokini + Turtle Town tour on our website and save an extra 10% off our already discounted tickets!


A crescent-shaped volcanic crater located off the coast of Maui, Molokini is one of the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii, particularly during periods of summer swells. The unique geography and orientation of the inside of Molokini’s crater create a natural shelter that shields it from the effects of larger south swells and strong currents, providing a calm and protected environment for snorkelers.

However, on the biggest south swell days, exiting and returning to Ma’alaea Harbor could become hazardous, so exercise caution booking a trip on days when the forecast calls for High Surf Advisory level south swell. Otherwise, the crystal-clear waters surrounding Molokini offer excellent visibility, allowing snorkelers to marvel at the diverse marine life that inhabits its vibrant coral reefs. Snorkeling at Molokini is a memorable experience, offering the opportunity to immerse oneself in a thriving underwater ecosystem while enjoying the tranquility of a snorkeling spot sheltered from the summer swells. Book a Calypso Molokini + Turtle Town tour on our website and save an extra 10% off our already discounted tickets!

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South Shore

Snorkeling spots on Maui’s south shore (Kihei-Makena) are not as sheltered from summer swells as the northwest corner of Maui. So, more often than not, there are likely to be waves at your favorite south Maui spot if a south swell comes in. However, neighbor islands can heavily shadow some swell directions. In this case, for example, snorkeling spots closer to Kihei could have minimal waves, when Wailea and Makena have large surf. This is why it’s imperative to check the forecasts for the day and the days ahead, so you can make informed decisions about where to safely snorkel.

How Can I Find Out About Summer Swells Ahead of Time?

Weather and Waves KiheiFortunately, surf forecasting has become quite good, alerting us up to 2 weeks ahead of time when a large swell is on the way. Even better, if you’re just interested in the forecast for today, the swell forecast and local webcams offer an accurate enough picture of conditions to help you safely decide where to go. 

So, for those times when you’re checking out today’s conditions or just a few days out, we’ve made Weather & Waves pages for each region of Maui! Check the wind models, weather forecast, a live webcam, and the surf forecast for Ka’anapali, Kihei, Paia, or Hana – all automatically updated constantly!

For those longer term forecasts, the NOAA offers a detailed weather and surf forecast updated twice daily for free. Read that here or follow the link to it on every one of our Weather & Waves pages. 

Most importantly, if you’re not sure how to interpret the forecast or where to go, just reach out to Auntie Snorkel! We’re always happy to help guide you to the best spots for the day. 

Alternatives to Snorkeling

If it seems like the surf is just too high, or you can’t make the drive to the northwest shore, there are lots of other Maui activities to do until the swell comes down (which is usually quickly). Here are some of our summer favorites. Enjoy!

Maui Zipline ToursMaui Helicopter Tours
Maui LuausRoad to Hana Tours

About Auntie Snorkel

Auntie Snorkel shop has been serving Maui’s fun seekers for over 33 years, established in 1985. We're the original South Maui Snorkel Shop. When I bought the shop 10 years ago from Auntie, we decided to keep the name. The name "Auntie" is a term of respect here in Hawaii. I'm living my dream. I get to meet awesome people from all over the world and share with them my love and knowledge of this magical island that I get to call home. We know all the spots. I have lived here since 2001. We're the true definition of a family owned and operated shop. I answer the phones and work the shop along with my family. When you shop with us you're supporting my ohana and for that I thank you!! Why go anywhere else? We're the friendliest, fastest, cheapest and our location is the most epic! Mahalo and Aloha”. ~Mark Noble (Owner & Maui Fun Expert)

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